The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 30, 2013

Show celebrates music, culture, vets of '60s

BRANSON, Mo. — Amber Campbell loves the music of the 1960s.

"There are so many great songs," said the La Russell native. "It's timeless music. You can understand the words, and you are not embarrassed to have your mom or your grandkids with you. It's just good, clean music and fun."

For Campbell, the music from the decade that spawned the Vietnam War, Woodstock and hippies isn't just a musical attraction, it's her livelihood. Campbell and her husband operate and perform in the "#1 Hits of the '60s" show in Branson.

The couple and their cast of characters entertain audiences six days a week at the Caravelle Theatre, located at 3446 W. Highway 76 in Branson. The show is in its 11th season. Campbell and her performing spouse have owned the show for four years.

"I just like the '50s and '60s music and the demographic," she said. "This is music that people who come to Branson love to hear. We could rewrite the show every year and have 100 different songs every year and never run out of material."

While the focus of the show is on '60s hits Ñ songs from Motown, the British Invasion and other chart-topping American hits Ñ a few '50s songs are featured during the preshow. But that will change next season: Audience requests for '50s music have influenced Campbell to consider adding a second decade of hits to the lineup.

"We just announced that next season we will be '#1 Hits of the '60s and '50s', too," she said. "There is so much great music from the '50s that we decided to drop some of them in."

Not only will the music be different for the 2014 season, sets and costumes will change, too.

"We are going to do a little black and white thing with the '50s and then go Technicolor with the '60s," she said.

Campbell grew up in and graduated high school from La Russell. She attended Southwest Baptist University then sang and danced her way to Branson. She worked onboard the Showboat Branson Belle, waiting tables and holding out hope for a career in entertainment.

Her persistence paid off. After working as a cast member with "#1 Hits," she had the opportunity to invest in her future. It was a big step, she said.

"It's really fun performing, but I never dreamed I would own a show," said Campbell. "When the opportunity came up four years ago to purchase the show, I had never really dreamed (it would have happened). There was a checklist a mile long of things that had to happen, but everything just fell into place. I knew that was the path I was supposed to walk down."

During her journey down that path, Campbell said she's made many friends and is lucky to perform with the talented cast she's assembled. Her female co-stars, Jeanna Kildane and Ashley Jo Deaton, have been with the show for several seasons.

Deaton recently signed a new contract with the show, and Kildane brings a unique element to the show's veterans tribute. Kildane herself is a U.S. Army veteran and was named Army Female Vocalist of the Year in 2002.

"She was a medical supply specialist," Campbell said. "She went to boot camp just like everyone does. She says, 'I had to hold a gun, and if you stand real still, I can shoot ya.' She's a hoot."

Campbell's father was a World War II veteran. The show's tribute to veterans, especially Vietnam-era service members, is important to her.

"It is special to have veterans in the show," Campbell said. "We announce that we have a veteran in the show, and then this skinny little girl comes out. You expect it to be one of the boys."

As Campbell prepares for the Christmas season and the new show in 2014, she said she feels blessed. Unlike the days when Campbell would clock in, pick up a paycheck and go home, now she is invested in the show and her cast of friends and performers.

"I am thrilled," she said. "It's very rewarding when you get up and look in the mirror every day and know that the show's success or failure depends on you. If you want to change something, it starts here. It's nice knowing that everything you do impacts everyone around you. You definitely have 11 families' livelihoods in your hands. It's a responsibility."

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